If the hour-and-a-half trip from San Sebastián hadn’t been enough travel for the day, after checking in to our hotel and exploring a little bit of the estuary, we were on our way to Portugalete, a town 20km from the center of Bilbao, or roughly 40 minutes north on the metro.
The rain is coming down in drops slightly larger than the xirimiri I’ve become used to, just enough for it to be mildly annoying. The wind isn’t doing my hair any favors either, so I pull it up into a loose bun just for the sake of stopping it from whipping my face.
I get a distinct impression that artistic expression is much more welcome, and encouraged, around these parts. Every surface is fair game for a splatter, a chip, or a sketch. Every tile and trace contributes a fragment of the city’s personality.
Right beside the Santa Clara kultur-etxea is the first set of electric ramps I’ve seen here. Bogotá insists there’s a few in Donosti that connect the street behind the plaza that’s in front of the Euskotren station to the top of that hill, but I’ve yet to see them. Anyways, these are a godsend for seniors, children, people utilizing mobility vehicles, and people like me whose thighs are constantly on fire.
Peeking out over the tops of the pastel apartments is the Puente de Vizcaya, the world’s oldest transporter bridge. It celebrated its 125th birthday back in 2018.
The Bridge was designed by Alberto de Palacio y Elissague, a disciple of Gustave Eiffel’s. A statue of him looks over his creation from across the street. Other works of his include the Palacio de Cristal at the Parque del Retiro, as well as the Atocha station, both in Madrid.
It costs 45 cents to cross on the transporter and 9€ to go up on the catwalk. We had no idea it was possible to go up high, and I still don’t know if we’d have done it. Seems like fun, but it’s also mildly terrifying. Although of course, the worst case is you fall into the river.
So for now, we stick to crossing alongside the cars. The inside of the transporter is plastered with images of the bridge and other sights in the area, and the trip takes about 3 minutes to complete.
After a short metro ride up from the suburbs of Getxo, we were walking up to the Molino de Aixerrota (which literally means windmill in Basque). Immediately I’m thinking of the windmills from Don Quixote, but those from La Mancha are cylindrical while this one (and most other Basque windmills) have more of a cut-off cone shape.
A few miles away behind the cliffs, lie the snowcapped peaks of the Grumeran-Triano mountains. Or at least I think that’s what they are.
I used to believe that you had to choose between the sea and the mountains, with the former more often being warm and the latter cold, but in Spain, I’ve learned that you really can have both things, albeit not in the temperature you might want. The water in San Sebastián is only warm enough to jump in without requiring a few beers two months out of the year, but that’s a story for another day.
The green hills are what I imagine Ireland is a bit like, rolling in the wind, rain always on the horizon. Someone pointed out that Galicia is very similar. And then you have the purported Celtic connection between them, so there’s that as well. Maybe someday I’ll get to see for myself.
Before heading back to the station, we make a quick detour down towards the beach, leaving the windmill behind us. Or so I thought until I turned back and stopped dead in my tracks.
Between the sights in front of me, and the cold mist stinging my face, it’s a little hard to breathe. It’s as if a layer of frost has formed over my lungs. For the longest minute, I stare out into the ocean, silent with wonder. And for a split second, I feel the weightlessness of time unpassing. Every worry falls from my shoulders, some floating away in the wind, some dissolving into the waves below. Finally, I’m able to catch my breath.